NASCAR Cup Series

Johnson And Byron Optimistic Heading Into New Year

A new year brings a fresh start for Hendrick Motorsports’ drivers William Byron and Jimmie Johnson, both of whom will have new crew chiefs in 2019.

Chad Knaus, who had been with the No. 48 team since 2002, will move to the No. 24 team, with Kevin Meendering, taking over his former role.

When this was announced last October, it sent shockwaves throughout the sport; however, Johnson recently revealed he felt it was something that needed to happen.

“It definitely is a new challenge and I welcome it,” Johnson said. “One thing that I did know was that the way things were going and where Chad (Knaus) and I ended up, that needed to change. It wasn’t bringing the best out of either one of us and we weren’t delivering like we needed to. So, I knew that much, for sure, last year. And then I’m just excited to get this fresh start and see where it takes us.”

The move came after the seven-time champion’s worst season to date, where for the first time he failed to win a race and only scored two top-five’s. Last year also proved to be difficult for Bryon, who was the only Hendrick driver to miss the playoffs.

“There really weren’t a lot of takeaways for us from last year other than learning the Cup Series, so I am putting that year behind us,” Byron said. “ This year working with Chad (Knaus) is going to be exciting. I feel like we’ve started that process already, just doing things together as a team. I feel like it is growing, and I feel like by the time we get to Daytona, we should be up and rolling.”

Though the new season hasn’t started yet, the 21-year-old has already taken notice of what it will be like working with Knaus.

“His work ethic is really high,” Byron said. “That is important as a crew chief to have that work ethic. That is really the biggest thing I can take away from him. I will try to apply that as best I can to what I am doing. I don’t have to worry about him doing his job, or worry about what the team is doing.”

Meanwhile, for his 43-year-old teammate, a new crew chief means an unusual obstacle, one that he has not had to deal with before.

“I’ve never been in this position, I know that much,” Johnson said. “There is a lot of ‘new’ to it, there’s no way around that. But, I do have the history of knowing everybody here at the shop and the history of the No. 48 and all that, so it doesn’t feel totally new, but largely new, for sure.”

However, with the Daytona 500 on the horizon, the motivation is high within the organization with Byron looking to prove he belongs and Johnson wanting to show there is plenty left in the tank.

“The past is great and I’ve won seven championships and 83 races, but that’s then and this is now and I’m still as hungry and focused and dedicated as ever,” Johnson said. “And, having a year like I did last year also ramps-up the intensity some, so I’m just ready to get going.”


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By Mitchell Breuer

Mitchell Breuer, is a 22-year-old Minnesota native who is currently attending Winona State University to obtain a degree in Mass Communications-Journalism. In addition to POPULAR SPEED, Mitchell is currently the sports editor at WSU's student paper, The Winonan.